“Be the Dream Queen” : Gender Performativity, Femininity, and Transgender Sex Workers in China

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

View graph of relations


Original languageEnglish
Article number11168
Journal / PublicationInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number21
Online published24 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021



An under-researched aspect of transgender sex workers in China pertains to their desires and expressions of femininity. Male-to-Female (MTF) transgender sex workers are a high-risk population prone to depression and stress regarding body image, intimate relationships marked by violence, and social stigma, rendering them vulnerable to hate crimes and discrimination. Ethnographic data from in-depth interviews with 49 MTF transgender sex workers indicate that sex, gender and feminine desire are mutable in the construction of self and subjectivity. This study uses the conceptual framework of gender performativity, that is, gender is performative and distinct from physical bodies and binary classifications. It is not only an individual’s normative gender expressions which are based on the sex assigned at birth, but it also reinforces the normative gender performances of the gender binary. This article argues that the 49 MTF transgender sex workers are embodiments of gendered performances, displaying femininity to ameliorate hate crimes and discrimination as well as reinforce the masculinity and sexuality of their clients and intimate sex partners. Embracing their femininity constitutes a self-help program, enabling them to build self-confidence and develop a positive self-image in the face of overwhelming social disapproval.

Research Area(s)

  • Clients, Femininity, Hate crime, Intimate sex partners, Performativity, Transgender sex workers

Download Statistics

No data available